The Private Equity World: Broadening Focus on Sustainability – The Blackstone Group is All In

May 17 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The P/E world:  Private equity firms often have a pool of companies wholly owned or invested in and managed and advised by them in portfolio …this is the ambitious domain of the private equity (P/E) universe.

The leading publicly-traded P/E leaders are familiar names to institutional investors:

  • Blackstone (NYSE:BX),
  • The Carlyle Group (NASDAQ:CG),
  • Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO),
  • Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts (NYSE:KKR).

There also well-known P/E companies not publicly-traded such as TPG Capital and Bain Capital (which owns, invests in and advises portfolio entities).

Focusing on one major P/E firm today – Blackstone Group – we see how sustainability is now being driven across the alternative investment of P/E enterprises.

Blackstone owns and manages key asset categories such real estate (owning the huge Stuyvesant Town complex in NYC), hedge funds, credit & insurance, financial advice, investment (partnering for example with Pfizer and SFJ Pharmaceuticals for therapies), and managing private equity funds and funds of funds for its investment clients.

In the Blackstone investment portfolio are companies with familiar names:  SERVPRO, Ancestry, Refinitiv, Bumble, EPL, Aypa Power.

Blackstone Group Inc has asked the top executives running portfolio companies “controlled by its private equity arm” to regularly report on ESG matters to their boards of directors, according to a news story by Reuters corporate governance reporter Jessica Dinapoli (she covers boards of directors and C-suite trends).

She writes that Reuters obtained a letter from Blackstone’s CEO (“the world’s largest manager of alternative assets such as P/E”) to portfolio companies’ CEOs that is basis of her report.

Her takeaway:  The Blackstone firm’s sustainability credibility would be boosted by portfolio companies disclosing more about their climate risk, environmental certifications, diversity & inclusion, and commitments to protection of human rights.

According to the Reuters report, the letter to portfolio companies’ CEOs advised: “ESG factors are attracting greater focus globally and demand careful attention on your part.”

The latest move by Blackstone could help to “standardize” ESG reporting across the firm’s massive global portfolio.

An accompanying story by Reuters tells us that Blackstone recently hired five managers to beef up its internal ESG team as the firm moves to drive sustainability and diversity across its broad portfolio of holdings.

Adding our perspective why this is a very important development: The company is a member of the American Investment Council (formerly, Private Equity Growth Council).

What about P/E and sustainability? 

That organization says in 2020 the P/E industry invested $24 billion-plus just in renewable and sustainability projects… “playing a critical role in the energy transition and moving our economy in a more sustainable direction.”  P/E has invested $100 billion in renewable energy since 2010 says the AIC.

The Blackstone moves to have portfolio companies “be all in” on sustainability should help to bring about much more ESG disclosure by firms not necessarily doing much reporting today (as they are tucked away in P/E portfolios)l

From experience we know at G&A Institute that when firms move out of P/E portfolio (via IPO, SPAC, acquisition by larger firm, management buyout, other means) the proactive burnishing of corporate ESG reputations can be a big plus in the divestment of today’s P/E entity.

We have the link to the Blackstone report in the Top Story this issue.

TOP STORIES

 

Special Mention – IR Magazine Focus – Our Partners, DFIN

Selling in the Agora or Connecting Online – Consumer Products Companies Adapt to Growing Demand for Sustainable Products

June 20 2021  – Here we go shopping!

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

Selling “at retail,” both direct to consumers and through business partners to consumers in both digital and physical spaces, is a rapidly- changing (every day!) area of the North American economy.

Think of the upheavals in the once-staid and steady consumer retail marketplace in recent years.

Tiny Amazon came to life in summer 1994 in Washington State founded by a former Wall Streeter, Jeff Bezos. The first products offered were books (with human editors writing summaries!).

By 2020, the company had reached annual revenues of US$386 billion (up $38% over 2019) with net profits of US$21 billion (up 84% over 2019) – with an amazing array of products moving to consumers.

Amazon was the “go-to” retailer for many people in the sheltering-in-place days of the Covid pandemic. Need “it”? Chances are Amazon’s “got it” as the company’s inventory of products and methods of delivery have been dramatically expanding. And disrupting many other retailing organizations.

The largest U.S.-headquartered, “location-based” as well as remote order retail organization selling direct to consumers is Walmart, with 11,443 stores, 404 distribution centers and 2021 fiscal year sales of $559 billion worldwide.

Consider that Walmart is the largest retailer on the globe — including being the #2 digital retail marketer. All this from small beginnings as storefront stores in Arkansas founded by Sam Walton and family in 1962. By 1967, there were 24 stores with a healthy $12 million in annual sales.  Walton Stores morphed to “Wal-Mart Stores”.

Walmart today is also a business disrupter for many other retailing organizations and for companies in the middle all along the value chain from farm-to-factory-to-shelf and table. But there are other disrupters as well in the digital retail marketing space.

Top web-based retailers today include Apple (at #3, just passed by Walmart), Dell, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Wayfair, Kroger, and Staples.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that retail sales topped $4 trillion in the United States. While e-commerce grew by 44% to become $1-in-$5 of all retail sales, “in-store” sales still dominated the retail space.

There are more than one million retail establishments across the breadth of the U.S., and even the 50 top retailers with online presence operate stores (a hybrid model).

Fixed-space retailing is still very popular with consumers – “wandering the Agora” has been a favorite pastime for many of us since the classical times in ancient Greece and down through the ages.

The Athens agora was an important city and just part of the agora of settlements in Greece; this was the center of economic activity and the consumer marketplace for goods…as well as for sharing ideas.

Today’s huge malls are a sort of equivalent but minus the philosophers holding forth.

What about large consumer products companies selling to consumers in domestic and global marketplaces, mostly through value chain partners ranging from Walmart and Amazon to supermarket chains?

How are these companies managing their way through the embrace of sustainable products by a growing number of consumers?

We have selected three firms to look at this week who are leaders in terms of their corporate ESG profile: Kellogg’s, Colgate-Palmolive, and PepsiCo. Some top lines for you:

Kellogg’s is partnering with 440,000 farmers in 29 countries to promote climate, social and financial resiliency (this is the “Kellogg’s Origin” program). The company’s Kashi subsidiary began to partner with local growers (wheat, corn, rice, sorghum) to help transition from traditional farming to organic farming. The food manufacturer / marketers’ programs are outlined in the story from Baking Business (see link below).

Colgate-Palmolive is reporting on its corporate sustainability journey with updates on its “purpose” progress – re-imagining a healthier future for all people, their pets, and our planet.

News: 99 percent of Colgate-Palmolive products launched in 2020 have improved sustainability profiles – that should be attractive to this large company’s customers.

PepsiCo is a large multinational enterprise marketing beverages and snacks around the world. The company is coming out in support of the idea of better “environmental labelling,” as the European Union considers as part of its “Farm-to-Fork” strategy a sustainable food labelling framework. PepsiCo is generally on board, says its director of environmental policy, Gloria Gabellini, with the idea that consumers have the right to expect transparency from the producers.

And so – for consumer purchases in the digital space or taking place in a fixed location (the venerable physical storefront) – consumer products companies are recognizing the shift underway with many more buyers seeking “sustainable” products (especially for consumables).

These food, beverage, personal products, and related products are disrupting their own businesses to remake the model.

Think of retailing – including wandering the Agora of the 21st Century – as an ever-changing economic activity.

Free-range chicken for dinner tonight, anyone? Even farming practices considered “old” or traditional are coming back into vogue for consumers.

TOP STORIES

Corporate Progress

G7 Developments

The “G7” are heads of governments of the leading economies of the world – United States of America, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, and Canada.

These sovereigns represent about 60% of global net wealth and almost half of global GDP. The European Union has representatives at the G7’s annual summit. G7 decisions influence the major economies of the world. So – these steps need to be monitored going forward:

Investors & Climate Change – Leading Institutions and their Growing Networks are Urging Expanded Corporate Disclosure

June 28 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

What about the steadily-rising investor expectations for the corporate sectors’ climate change actions and expanded ESG disclosures?

We are able to more closely examine the rising expectations of leading asset owners/key fiduciaries and their asset managers to understand the investors’ views on the ESG / sustainability disclosure practices of issuers they provide capital to.

This includes keeping close watch on individual institutions and especially the collaborations of investment organizations they participate in.

For example, this news out of London: Some 168 investors hailing from 28 countries are now collaborating to urge companies with “high environmental impact” to use CDP’s system to disclose their environmental data.

And note:  The companies being targeted by investors represent US$28 trillion in market cap and emit an estimated 4,700 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent…every year.

The investor collaboration is part of CDP’s 2021 Non-Disclosure Campaign, created to put pressure on companies that have not disclosed their carbon emissions through CDP or have discontinued the practice. Beyond carbon concerns,

CDP and its collaborating investors and investor groups are also zeroing in on companies with forest or water security concerns. (Note that some firms disclose to CDP on one theme of concern to the investor but not others – some companies report on climate change but not on water or forestry issues.)

Targeted companies for investor action in the U.S. included at the “top of the As” are such firms as Apple, Amazon, Aramark, Abbott Laboratories, Activision Blizzard, Albemarle Corp, and Alliant Energy. In Switzerland, Alcon; in Sweden, Alfa Laval Corporate AB; in Canada, Allied Properties REIT; in Brazil, Ambev S.A.; in the U.K., Arrow Global Group. The complete list is available here for your searching.

The bold name asset management firms joining the CDP campaign for greater corporate disclosure this year include HSBC Global Asset Management, Legal and General Investment Management, Nuveen, and Schroders.

Investors supporting the campaign include asset managers and separate activist investor collaborations that are part of The Investor Agenda, which has produced a comprehensive framework recently for these investors (HSBC Global Asset Management, Legal and General Investment Management, Nuveen.)

This effort was founded by seven partners including Ceres, CDP, UN PRI, and UNEP Finance Initiative. In the United States, National Association of Plan Advisors, The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing  (U.S. SIF) and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have joined the effort.

The approach is to set out “expectations” in four areas:

  • corporate engagement,
  • investment (managing climate risk in portfolio),
  • enhancing investor disclosure, and
  • policy advocacy (urging actions to drive to the 1.5C pathway). Part of this is an urging of governments to take action to address climate change, moving toward this year’s COP 26 gathering in Glasgow.

The CDP Non-Disclosure campaign is now in its fifth year, enjoying a 39% year-on-year growth in investor participation since the start in 2017, with investor participation up more than 50% since 2020.

This effort is part of a broad movement of investor participants and investor alliances aiming to drive change in the companies they provide capital to, as governments, investors and corporations adopt goals to be part of the societal move to achieve “Net Zero” by the year 2050.

These alliances include the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), gathering signatories to set science-based targets (SBTs).

Members of GFANZ include 43 banks participating in the Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA). The United Nations convened the NZBA to aim for a carbon-neutral investment portfolio by mid-century and will leverage the CDP campaign to target specific companies not disclosing their environmental data.

The opportunity for corporate managements to respond to the CDP disclosure campaign and be eligible for scoring and inclusion in CDP reports is at hand; the CDP disclosure system is open until July 28, 2021.

Here at G&A Institute, our team is assisting our corporate clients in responding to this year’s disclosure request from CDP.

For corporate managers: If your firm received the CDP request for disclosure for 2021 and you have questions about responding, or about your responses in development, the G&A Institute team is available to discuss. Contact us at info@ga-institute.com.

The details of the CDP campaign and the broad investor network focused on climate change actions and disclosure is our Top Story selection for you here.

TOP STORIES

A record 168 investors with US$17 trillion of assets urge 1300+ firms to disclose environmental data (Source: CDP

And more on the ESG disclosure front:

House-Approved Legislation Would Mandate ESG Disclosures (Source: National Association of Plan Advisors)

What’s the plan? Corporate polluters lag on setting climate goals (Source: Reuters)

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – #2

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute and the G&A team   — continuing a new conversation about the corporate and investor response the coronavirus crisis…this is the beginning….

Introduction
These are the times when actions and reactions to crisis helps to define the character of the corporation and shape the public profiles of each of the corporate citizens. For companies, these are not easy times.

Many important decisions are to be made, many priorities set in an environment of unknown unknowns — and there are many stakeholders to be taken care of.

Employees – Customers – Suppliers – Regulators – Partners – Investors – Lenders – Communities – Civic Leadership.

As the the arms of the Federal government rush to aid the American society, CEO Chuck Robbins of Cisco put things in perspective in the story: “It’s critical that D.C. do something fast for companies – if you get 80 percent right today, it’s better than waiting a week and getting it 90% right.”

The good news:  Corporations are not waiting – decisions are being made quickly and action is being taken to protect the enterprise – no easy task while protecting the corporate brand, the reputation for being a good corporate citizen, watching out for the investor base and the employee base — and all stakeholders.

This continuing commentary in the first week of the crisis breaking through the barriers of doubt and with reality setting in. What are companies doing? How will the decisions made at the top in turn affect the company’s employees, customers, hometowns, suppliers, other stakeholders? Stay tuned.

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Friday, March 20, 2020 – Day Four of the National Shutdown in the Coronavirus Crisis…  The Second Roundup of the Day –  Evening Today

Walmart Responds – Setting the Pace for Mass Retailing

Walmart is the largest retailer in the United States of America, with branded stores, Sam’s Club stores, warehouses and other facilities in literally thousands of communities across the continent.

During hurricanes, floods, superstorms and the like, the Walmart men and women have stepped forward to aid their communities in various ways.

The company has a web site up for employees, customers and stakeholders to detail “Walmart’s Response to COVID-19″ (link below).

Among the steps announced so far:

The message from the CEO-President John Furner (Walmart U.S.) to his team members:  “We are so grateful for your hard work.  It’s been incredible to see Walmart associates step up to the challenge of serving America this month.  During a very uncertain and stressful time, you have done your jobs with calm, compassion and excellence.”

Full message here: https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2020/03/19/walmart-u-s-ceo-john-furner-to-associates-we-are-so-grateful-for-your-hard-work

Walmart’s Walking-the-talk reward for associates:

  • Every full timer in stores, supply chain and HQs will receive $300 and part-timers $150 in the bonus (on April 2nd). The bonus payments for Q1 will be accelerated to be paid later in the month of April – the amount will be just as if the first quarter goals were reached.  No associate will receive less than the first Q bonus payment. Cost to WMT: US$180 million.
  • Overall, $550 million will be going to WMT associates during this critical period.  2019 Q4 payments were made this week – so Walmart team members will be seeing money coming in March 19 – April 2 – April 30 – May 28.

We’re hiring!  More associates are needed – the doors are open for up to 150,000 temporary workers for stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers – some may convert to permanent jobs after the crisis.  The 2-week application process is now 24 hours.  Information is at careers.walmart.com

The company beefed up its COVID-19 emergency leave policy to encourage sick employees to stay home, or those “uncomfortable”, those who are quarantined, and associates with the virus.

Today (March 20) from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. employees had an “associates-only” shopping hour with the usual 10% discount expanded to include vital grocery items.

Consider the lift:  This company has 2.2 million associates worldwide.

Walmart has a huge footprint across North America and stretched into parts of the world.  Each week (in normal times) 265 million shoppers (customers and “members”) visit 11,500 stores under 56 banners in 27 countries and eCommerce websites.

Says CEO-U.S. John Furner:  “Thank you again for what you’re doing – America needs Walmart right now, and we have been at our absolute best.

Bravo, Walmart associates, for keeping us supplied as best you can in this emergency.

You can keep up with Walmart news at: https://corporate.walmart.com/coronavirus

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Give Us a Few Hours and You Will Have Your Hand Cleaner

LVMH, the luxury brand marketer, met France’s call for more hand sanitizer in just 72 hours. On a typical day the Orleans, France factory produces perfume (Christian Dior etc).  This Monday, reports The Financial Times, the first lines of hand sanitizer in plastic bottles rolled forth, headed for doctors and nurses in Paris hospitals.

The government of France called on industry to help – that was last Friday – and Monday the bottles began to head for boxes for delivery to the besieged hospitals.  (LVMH – Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessey is the largest company in France.)

The company intends to produce 12 tonnes (!) of the gel to 39 hospitals in Paris (the APHP”) over the coming days and two other production lines (Givenchy, L’Oise and Guerlain Brand, Chartres) are coming on line.

Secret to the ramp up: FT writer Leila Abboud explains that sanitizing needs three main ingredients – purified water, ethanol and glycerine – and the company had these at the ready as the equipment was set up (cosmetics and pharma products being close cousins). The company makes liquid soap, moisturizing creams for the usual products – Dior, Givenchy, Guerlain.

Said the company:  “LVMH will continue to honour this commitment as long as necessary.”

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In related news The Financial Times tells us that other French companies have joined the battle.

  • BNP Paribas donated 500,000 masks to Paris hospitals.
  • Renault loaned 300 autos for medical purposes.
  • L’Oreal is retooling factories to make millions of hand sanitizers destined for nursing homes and hospitals.

Keeping in mind:  Makers of luxury goods will be hard hit in the current crisis, especially as the lucrative China markets shut down – both for sales and for production.  (LVMH is not reliant on China for production, but sales, definitely.)

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Closer to Home – Bacardi in Puerto Rico Steps Up

Bacardi Limited, makes of popular rums, will help to supply the ethanol required for making hand sanitizers.  The distillery in Catano, P.R. where 80% of the rums are made, is partnering with Olein Refinery to product raw materials that will contribute to the production of the products.

Target: at least 500,000 of the 10-ounce units of hand sanitizers – and these will be donated to local communities.  Said Jose Class – VP-Supply Chain & Manufacturing:  “This is a family-owned business sand we know what it means to take care of a community in need.  In the 158 years of [the family-owned] Bacardi, we’ve endured our share of challenging times and have learned that resilience, optimism and community are what will help us come out stronger.”

We’ll hoist a glass to that!  Make it BACARDI® – GREY GOOSE® – DEWARS® – BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® – MARTINI® – and other brands of this corporate citizen in a U.S. territory still struggling to recover from a devastating superstorm.

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Reuters / Ethical Corp:  Moving to the Online to Share Important Perspectives & Guidance

Ethical Corp / Reuters Events create “Reuters Events Ethical Corporation” events.  While in-person meetings will be a zero right now and probably at minimum for a while, that does not mean that the sharing has to stop.

The partners are organizing a new webinar series of 60 minutes each to “deliver solution to key sustainability challenges”.  Senior event speakers from Europe and the USA will present at the upcoming sessions:

  • Investors Engagement: Measuring Your Social Impact
  • Traceability & Visibility: Successfully Map and Monitor Across the Tiers
  • Best Practice Sustainability Supplier Engagement
  • Climate Disclosures – Accurately Reporting Climate Impacts, Risks and Future Opportunities

G&A Institute regularly partners with Reuters / Ethical Corp and G&A’s VP Amy Gallagher is the point person who alerts our connections about upcoming Reuters / Ethical Corp conferences.  She’ll keep us posted on the webinar series – watch for our communications through the usual channels.

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Global Reporting Initiative – Staying Safe and Continuing on Course

Tim Mohin, Chief Executive of the GRI, updated the global community plugged into the standards organization with news from Amsterdam (HQs of the GRI):

  • Most employees have transitioned to remote work arrangements to continue the operations.
  • Virtual solutions are enabling stakeholder engagements through online platforms.
  • All air travel is restricted for the GRI workforce.
  • Employees are being updated and informed through messaging apps, video, collaboration tools.

The GRI organization’s three priorities: (1) the wellbeing of all employees worldwide; (2) continuing the work with partners; (3) meeting new challenges with resilience, dedication and hard work.

You should know: Timothy J. Mohin was senior director of CR for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and former chair of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) before joining GRI as chief executive.  He’s the author of the best-seller, “Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations”.

Earlier in his career Tim was founder/leader of Apple’s Supplier Responsibility program, and also led Intel’s sustainability functions.

G&A Institute is Data Partner for the GRI in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (an EU state).   We value our long relationship with the GRI team and with Tim Mohin and our decade-long collaboration with GRI.

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The National Geographic Shoulders On – Facts and Science in the Forefront

The National Geographic Society has assembled the magazine’s COVID-19 “scientifically-accurate” information for subscribers (online). This includes text, graphics, photos, videos, “fake news” exposes, data sets, and much more.  Also, resources for families (“for facts geared toward kids and ideas on how to occupy their minds while they are out of school – at “Nat Geo Kids”).

All of this is in addition to the usual broad fare of science, geography and other content that the National Geographic offers.  The society’s national office in Washington D.C. is closed until at least March 31st

Says NatGeo:  “The work continues in these uncertain times.  It must.  Earth’s last wild places and millions of species are on the brink of being lost forever. If anything, this pandemic shows what happens when science and the experts are ignored.  We need solutions to the biggest challenges threatening our planet now more than ever. We can’t afford to pause our work, and we’ll do the best that we can to build a better future together while maintaining the health of all.”

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G&A Institute Team Note:
We will continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

The new items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items today in this first blog post will move down the queue.

We are creating the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID-19 for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share.   Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!